The 3-1 New York Giants face a very interesting game in Week 5.
They will face their toughest test of the season against Aaron Rodgers and the 3-1 Green Bay Packers — and not only will they do so, they’ll be doing it in London.
The Giants are beat up coming into this game. Not only are they still dealing with the injuries sustained over the first three games of the year, but the Giants were hit hard by injury in their Week 4 victory over the Chicago Bears.
Quarterback Daniel Jones appears on track to play after Sunday’s ankle injury vs. the Bears. Backup QB Tyrod Taylor made the trip to London, but whether he will clear the concussion protocol in time to play is unknown.
Five players did not make the trip. They are wide receivers Kadarius Toney (hamstring) and Kenny Golladay (knee), cornerback Cor’Dale Flott (calf), edge defender Azeez Ojulari (calf) and defensive tackle Henry Mondeaux.
The Packers, meanwhile survived their Week 4 game against the New England Patriots. While Green Bay got the win, Pats’ third-string rookie QB Bailey Zappe took the Packers to overtime.
So what can the Giants’ offense expect from the Green Bay defense?
Who is your passer and what does he do?
The biggest question regarding the Giants this week revolves around the quarterback position.
Daniel Jones was (effectively) knocked out of the Giants’ game against the Bears with an ankle injury. He practiced Wednesday and was seen executing bootleg rollouts. Tyrod Taylor, meanwhile, is in the concussion protocol (at least as of this writing), though he traveled with the team..
If Jones is limited by his injury (or suffers a setback during the game) that could mean that Davis Webb would get his first real NFL action since being drafted by the Giants back in the third round of the 2017 NFL draft.
(Note: Webb did make an appearance for Buffalo Bills as a human cigar, kneeling down twice in the closing minutes of their 45-17 drubbing of the New York Jets in Week 9 of 2021)
So what does Webb bring to the table as a (potential) starting quarterback?
For starters, Webb is an elite athlete at the quarterback position and tested pretty comparably to former teammate Josh Allen.
Webb’s calling card as a passer is his prodigious arm strength, which allows him to effortlessly generate velocity and drive the ball to all areas of the field. He also has a reputation as a workaholic film-junkie who became famous for assembling dossiers on the Giants’ opponents during his first stint with the team.
Webb was also arguably the best quarterback in the NFL during the 2022 preseason. Granted, that is a very small sample size, going against second or third-string players in very vanilla schemes. However, he executed what was asked of him and he did it well. All that said, Webb is a complete unknown in regular season play. Giants fans hoped he would get a shot in 2017, but that wasn’t to be. He has since sat behind Sam Darnold (when the Jets still had hope that he was a franchise quarterback) and Josh Allen (who has become a franchise quarterback).
The good news is that the Giants have also limited the load they’ve placed on the quarterback position. They’ve been able to lean on the running game, sprinkling in designed QB carries and read-option plays to exploit defenses that key on Saquon Barkley. Many of their passes have involved RPO or play-action concepts.
The Giants’ new brain trust has done a good job of assembling a quarterback room with similar skill sets throughout the depth chart. That should allow them to keep their play-calling and offensive game plan intact if they need to shuffle quarterbacks.
Packers’ run defense
One thing we can say for sure is that the Giants will want to run the ball, regardless of who is under center. The running game has been the backbone of the Giants offense all season, and the only way they have been able to consistently move the ball.
So far the Packers’ run defense has been something of a mixed bag. We’ll start with the upside.
So far the Packers have given up yards on the ground. Over the first four weeks they gave up rushing 126 yards to the Vikings, 180 rushing yards to the Bears, 34 rushing yards to the Buccaneers, and 167 rushing yards to the Patriots. If we take out the Buccaneers game, the Packers have given up 5.3 yards per carry.
The Packers primarily play a 2-4-5 defense, and their defensive linemen — other than Kenny Clark — haven’t been consistently disruptive. The Patriots were able to get offensive linemen up to the second level, creating enough of a push that their backs were able to make fairly consistent yardage.
Interestingly first round rookie defensive tackle Davonte Wyatt has only played 28 defensive snaps this year, one of the lowest totals of any first round draft pick. Wyatt was an excellent nose tackle for the Georgia Bulldogs and is a shockingly good athlete as well. He could be an X-factor in this game if the Packers play him.
But while the Packers’ defense has given up yards on the ground, those yards haven’t bitten them much. The Packers have given up just two rushing touchdowns and their defense ranks eighth in the NFL in EPA at -3.14. So while the Packers are giving up yards on the ground, they don’t seem to give up many yards on the ground when it matters.
It’s also worth noting that the Packers currently rank 1st in the NFL in third-down conversions with a 23.8 percent conversion rate. If the Giants want to sustain drives, they will probably need to bypass third down completely and pick up first downs on first or second down.
And as always, whether or not the Giants are able to run the ball effectively might come down to how much support the Packers’ defense is able to get from their offense. If Aaron Rodgers and crew are able to string together drives and finish with touchdowns, the Giants might be forced to throw more than they want just to keep up.
Will the Giants be able to throw the ball?
If all goes well, the Giants don’t want to worry about this often. They’ll throw the ball enough to keep the Packers’ defense honest, but the throws they attempt will likely be quick and safe.
If the Giants’ defense isn’t able to contain Aaron Rodgers and the Packers’ offense, or the Packers are able to clamp down on the Giants’ run game, this question will loom very large.
It’s also a multi-faceted question.
Not only do we have the quarterback question, but both the Giants’ receiving corps and Packers’ secondary are fluid situations.
As of this writing, the Giants’ top receivers are WRs Richie James, David Sills V, RB Saquon Barkley, and TE Daniel Bellinger. Kadarius Toney (injuries to both hamstrings) is out. Wan’Dale Robinson’s status is uncertain.
The Packers are dealing with some injuries in their secondary, as CB Jaire Alexander has a groin injury and safety Adrian Amos left the Packers’ Week 4 game against the New England Patriots with a possible concussion. The Packers stated that Alexander could have been able to play if it had been a pivotal game, so we should assume that he’ll be available against the Giants.
As things stand now, the match-up swings in favor of the Packers, as the Giants’ wide receivers won’t scare many teams. However, if Robinson and Toney are able to play and Alexander isn’t, that will change the calculus.
But wait, that’s not all.
Packers’ edge defender Rashan Gary is off to a strong start to the season, with 11 tackles, 5.0 sacks, and a forced fumble. He’s one of just two edge defenders to land in the Top 10 of both of ESPN’s Pass Rush and Run Stop win rate. Gary has always had elite explosiveness, but he’s combined that with much improved hand usage. He is now using his length to keep blockers off of his body, allowing him to fully unlock his power and athletic ability.
The Packers are one of the NFL’s more blitz-happy defenses. While they might not blitz as much as the Giants, they’re still credited with a 33.6 percent blitz rate per Pro Football Reference. And much like the Giants, while the Packers don’t consistently put the quarterback on the ground, they do get to them fairly regularly. The Green Bay pass rush is 9th in pressure rate and 10th in QB knockdown rate.
The Giants will also have to worry about defensive lineman Kenny Clark. Clark is listed as a nose tackle, but he’s a very disruptive interior pass rusher. The Giants’ interior offensive line struggled mightily against the likes of Jeffery Simmons, and Clark could pose similar problems.
Ideally, the Giants will be able to stick to their game plan of running the ball on most plays. However, if they’re forced to throw the ball, they might have to get creative in scheming favorable matchups and protecting whichever quarterback takes the field.